How not to fail with Agile
The business practices known as Agile and Scrum are suddenly big news again.
Some recent high-profile project failures have triggered much angst in big business. Is Agile suitable for larger projects? Is Agile fundamentally incompatible with the structure of business in general?
Here at Smartbill®, we use Agile in our software development organisation and have done so for some years. Smartbill® is a leader in usage analytics, an area that requires constant improvement in algorithms, designs and code in order to keep the analytical output current and comprehensive.
At the same time, our innovation must recognise some significant constraints: the preservation of existing analysis algorithms, the requirements of Smartbill’s ISO 27001 Information Security certification and ISO 9001 quality certification, plus the normal operations of a customer-focused, financial-return-driven company.
Firstly, a confession: I’m a manager and I don’t hate Agile.
However, I am aware that success with Agile requires certain preconditions within an organisation. Without the right environment, Agile will fail, and your managers will come to hate it.
Here are my ten tips for succeeding with Agile:
- Get management buy-in.
Agile is a disruptive process. It will change your organisation beyond the boundaries of individual projects, sometimes in cultural ways that traditional managers may not have considered. Managers need to know in advance what they are letting themselves in for. The lone voice in the crowd is not effective.
- Get a product owner.
A scrum team can be quick to set up, but driving the business needs takes someone to act as champion, as ‘customer’, to the scrum team. You need a strong product owner to set direction and to have the vision. Without one, your project will be Garbage In – Garbage Out.
- Have a team that wants to change.
Blocking characters are everywhere and each team will have one, but if the whole team stays put and management aren’t interested in rocking the boat, we have trouble. Your team must want to move to a cross-functional approach and away from single points of failure. This is sometimes a journey on which you have to lead people.
- Identify the right delivery methodology.
Don’t bash a square peg into a round hole. A pure Agile approach may not be the best fit for all aspects of our operation. For example, for support of existing operations (business as usual work), a straightforward just-in-time approach like Kanban may be more suitable. In the words of Ken Schwaber, “If Waterfall suits current needs, continue using it.” Hybrid processes can work well too, such as ‘Wagile’ (Waterfall + Agile) or ‘Scrumban’ (Scrum + Kanban), although these may introduce other unpredicted process problems.
- Consider what will fail in advance.
Each company is different but most likely you or your team will already know the answer to this one. Admittedly sometimes you just have to start.
‘Sprint 0’ of your project should be to set up the scrum and look for and address such issues.
- Have the correct tools on place.
Stick to one piece of project management software and know it well. Having to move around just makes life more awkward and chews your time. White boards and sticky notes are a great place to start. JIRA and Trello are both fantastic tools for quality assurance, tracking, and ISO 9001 standards.
- Keep it simple.
If it all comes across as too hard, just stick to ‘343’:
3 roles (product owner, scrum-master, development team)
4 meetings (daily scrum, retrospective, review, planning )
3 artefacts (planning board, product backlog and sprint backlog)
- Stay consistent.
Don’t vary meeting times; don’t vary key routines. Scrum should be consistent, so that the rigour of the process becomes second nature to you and your team.
- Stay positive through the change.
Change doesn’t come overnight. Your persistence through the change period is vital.
10. Most challenges are about people.
A command and control structure doesn’t work for Agile. Foster EQ over IQ and build a culture of accountable collaborative people. If you’ve got the right people in your team, then liberate them, and you will reap the rewards in greater creativity, productivity and collaboration.
Agile is a deeply democratising process. It does not suit every organisation nor every project. But with a motivated team, management support and clear objectives, there is nothing like it for turbo-charging your innovation cycle.